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Buffer state ruler a master of balancing act

IT WAS always a balancing act. Jordan is a buffer state between more powerful countries, notably Israel and Iraq. King Hussein's political career was spent playing off his enemies against each other.

The king needed to keep in with the great powers, but preserve his nationalist credentials. An early act of the young monarch was to fire his British military adviser, Pasha Glubb.

In 1967 he joined Egypt and Syria to fight Israel, only to lose the West Bank. In 1991 he won overwhelming popular support from Jordanians by maintaining a friendly neutrality towards Iraq during the Gulf war.

But the king was also the man who crushed the Palestinians in Jordan in a bloody civil war in 1970. Three years later, he secretly flew to Israel to tell a disbelieving Israeli Prime Minister that Egypt and Syria were about to start a war.

He played both ends against the middle because he believed Jordan's weakness 4.4m people and no natural resources or defences left him no choice.

The king also knew that foreign policy failure would have immediate domestic consequences. More than half the population of Jordan is Palestinian, largely excluded from power but dominating private business. He needed an Israeli guarantee against Iraq but not at the price of alienating the Palestinians.

He demise comes at a bad moment for Jordan. In 1994 the King signed a peace treaty with Israel. It has produced no economic and few political dividends, though it got him back into the good graces of the US. It is unpopular among Jordanians and Palestinians alike.

But peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are stalemated and Saddam Hussein has survived. Both have felt free to send their assassination squads into the streets of Amman. Washington is pressing Jordan to turn itself into a base for action against Iraq, a policy wildly unpopular among ordinary Jordanians. There is a much bigger question mark over the future of Jordanian policy than expected a month ago.

This is because of the dismissal of Crown Prince Hassan, the king's brother and primary lieutenant. The new heir to the throne, the king's eldest son, Abdullah, is an unknown quantity. The Washington Post says that his supporters recently hired a former CIA section as ``public relations consultant,'' creating doubts about his judgement.

One of Abdullah's strengths may be an ability to improve relations with the Gulf states, who never forgave King Hussein for his stance in the Gulf war.

Independent News Service.

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